KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Supporters wearing blue “Justice for Ralph” t-shirts packed a Clay County courtroom Thursday afternoon to attend a hearing for Andrew Lester.
The 84-year-old man was charged with shooting 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in April.
The crowd, joined by Ralph’s mother and aunt, used the shirts to represent Ralph in the courtroom.
“For the longest time Ralph could not go to the house that he was growing up in. He could not drive on that street. That is what we need to talk about. That is what the judge needs to understand,” Faith Spoonmore, Ralph Yarl’s aunt, said.
“That Lester is suffering the consequences of his actions, but Ralph is suffering the consequences of being Black in America. That is what the judge needs to hear.”
The Yarl family, joined by their attorneys, said they are growing frustrated by the way the case is being handled and believe the prosecutor is not handling the case properly. They believe even simple decisions are being made without taking Ralph into consideration.
Lee Merritt, who represents the Yarl family, pointed out a Clay County judge sealed evidence in the case and then granted the defense a three-month continuance before Lester’s preliminary hearing.
The family and their attorneys said they’ve asked for Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to try to the case instead, saying they no longer have confidence in Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson.
“Nothing about this case has been handled normally. The decision to seal, the decision to fail to accept Ralph’s initial statement and make an initial arrest. A lot of the things that have occurred in terms of the criminal judicial process, we don’t feel, reflects a system working without consideration for the victim or the defendant,” Merritt said.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin Aug. 31, a week after Ralph is scheduled to start his senior year at Staley High School.
His mother said while they are focused on getting Ralph ready to return to school, the case and the frustration they feel is always there.
“He’s a young boy who is trying to get back some normalcy in his life. The longer we stretch this out, the longer it takes him to get that little bit of normalcy he needs to spend his teenage years just doing teenage stuff,” Cleo Nagbe, Ralph’s mother, said.
Andrew Lester’s age is also a concern, according to the Yarl family and their attorneys. Lester already missed a hearing last week due to health issues.
“Mr. Lester is in fact advanced in age. There is a very real possibility that as a result of the consequences of his actions that his health may take a turn for the worse. If that happens, and we don’t get our day in court, and Ralph is never given an opportunity to face his assailant, to point him out in the courtroom and to see him convicted, then that is a lack of justice,” Merritt said.
FOX4 asked the Clay County Prosecutor’s Office about the Yarl family’s concerns and whether it has considered handing the case to a special prosecutor.
The office released the following statement in response:
Our hearts continue to go out to all impacted by this case. The focus of our office remains squarely on following the law and achieving justice. Our community deserves no less. Today, Mr. Thompson requested the case be set for Preliminary Hearing. That is the next step in the process, where a probable cause determination is made. If the Court finds probable cause, the case will be bound over to Circuit Court where the case will be resolved. The Court set the Preliminary Hearing for 10:00 a.m. on August 31 and September 1.Clay County Prosecutor’s Office
Prosecutors said Lester shot and injured Yarl on April 13 in a Northland Kansas City neighborhood. Investigators said the teenager confused Lester’s address with a home about a block away where he was supposed to pick up his younger brothers.